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SportsSoccer

NYCFC finally returns home to Yankee Stadium

New York City FC coach Ronny Deila walks

New York City FC coach Ronny Deila walks the field during a training session at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. Credit: NYCFC / Katie Cahalin

When the Yankees are away, the City boys can play.

New York City FC hosts an MLS match at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday against D.C. United, the club’s first appearance at its traditional home venue since Sept. 25, 2019. In the time since, NYCFC has been displaced from the Bronx by playoff baseball, stadium renovations and pandemic-induced scheduling issues, utilizing Citi Field for a playoff match last October before setting up shop at Red Bull Arena in February for the CONCACAF Champions League, and again in August for MLS’ return to home markets.

While a Yankees playoff run typically means trouble for NYCFC’s schedule, MLB’s postseason safety plan sent the Yankees first to Cleveland and then to the West Coast with no games at home, giving NYCFC a chance to turn the diamond back into a pitch for the rest of its regular season.

"I think everybody feels comfortable, feels at home here," said homegrown player James Sands. "We just had training on the field and it looks great, probably the best shape that I've seen it. And I think probably because the Yankees haven't been on it recently, but it looks good and everyone's excited."

NYCFC has been one of MLS’ best home teams since its inception, often capitalizing on other teams’ unfamiliarity with the narrow, but legal, field dimensions required to play soccer at the Stadium. In 51 home matches at the ballpark over the previous three seasons, NYCFC has lost just four times, amassing a league-best 113 points at home in that span.

Head coach Ronny Deila, however, is just as unfamiliar with the venue as any opponent. Only on the job since January, the Norweigian took in the Stadium for the first time as the club acclimated to the field conditions ahead of Wednesday’s match.

"I’ve been here a couple hours, it’s an iconic site, something you hear about since you were small. So it was a special moment to come into it and see it inside," said Deila.

Iconic, sure, but still unlike anything Deila is used to in this sport.

"It’s different than a soccer stadium. I was standing in the middle on the halfway line feeling a little bit lost out there. But at the same time, that could be an advantage for us because that’s maybe how the opponent’s feeling when they come there, but we are more used to it," the coach said.

Will Deila have to alter his tactics as the team moves from spacious Red Bull Arena to the narrow confines of the Bronx?

"We’ll see, I say always you have to learn through experience. I’ve asked my staff, of course, who’ve been there and the players, and they feel confident. I’ve asked is there something different you’ve done from home and away, and no, they haven’t done that. That’s what I believe in as well, doing the same things. We have to be 100% clear in how we want to play and keep on working with the same system so we get automatic, that’s what we’re starting to do now."

Mitrita still an NYCFC player for now

NYCFC’s last match at the Stadium featured a hat trick by Alexandru Mitrita. That's not happening Wednesday as he'll miss much of what’s left of the season after leaving for international duty and a personal matter in Romania. Social media reports late Monday said Mitrita soon will be loaned to Saudi Arabian club Al Ahli Saudi FC, and while Deila said there have been talks regarding a loan for the player, nothing has been finalized.

New York Sports